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State v. Ford

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

April 20, 2017

STATE OF LOUISIANA
v.
ROMAN FORD

         APPEAL FROM THE SIXTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF IBERIA, DOCKET NO. 15-1229 HONORABLE VINCENT JOSEPH BORNE, DISTRICT JUDGE

          Paula C. Marx Louisiana Appellate COUNSEL FOR: Defendant/Appellant - Roman Ford

          Winston White, Assistant Attorney General Louisiana Department of Justice COUNSEL FOR: Plaintiff/Appellee - State of Louisiana

          Court composed of Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux, Chief Judge, Sylvia R. Cooks, and Elizabeth A. Pickett, Judges.

          SYLVIA R. COOKS JUDGE

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Courtney LeBlanc, a Lieutenant at the Iberia Parish Jail, participated in the October 11, 2014 shake-down of Defendant, Roman Ford's cell. Lieutenant LeBlanc testified that two inmates complained of Defendant having a sharp object in his cell and complained that Defendant was making threats. When Lieutenant LeBlanc and Deputy Keith Moneaux went to check the cell, the Defendant and three other inmates were in the cell block. According to Lieutenant LeBlanc, the following happened when she and the other deputy entered the cell block:

Deputy Moneaux and myself both entered. I had each inmate one at a time get out of their bunk and put their hands behind their head and step out one at a time. Mr. Ford was the last one in the cell. He was on the bottom bunk closest to the restroom. Whenever he - -As the rest were entering - - The information was given was that he was the one who had the "shank"; so initially I focused on him just to see if there was anything else and to pay attention to that area. I did see him attempt to reach on his side. He was covered with his blanket, but I could see his hand under the blanket and he looked he [sic] was trying to grab for some type of item or something on his mat. He was the last one it [sic]. It was Deputy Moneaux and myself in there. And he stood up and asked for the restroom. I told him he could not go to the restroom at the time because history is [sic] the jail is that, if there is contraband or something, people will try to flush it to get rid of it. He was denied the restroom. The second - - We told him "no". He was standing up by the restroom and we heard - - well, I heard what sounded like a metal object hit the floor. [A]nd the second he was far enough away from it, myself and Deputy Moneaux grabbed him and escorted him out the cell. Deputy Moneaux went straight to where we - - where I heard the item fall and he picked up the "shank".

Lieutenant LeBlanc described the shank as being what appeared to be a screw that had been taken out of the floor and sharpened.

         Deputy Keith Moneaux testified that when he walked into the cell, he focused on Defendant since he was the inmate accused of having the shank. When Deputy Moneaux entered the cell, Defendant was fidgety and moving around on the mattress. Defendant was told to exit the cell but stated that he needed to use the restroom first. According to Deputy Moneaux, Defendant actually entered the bathroom stall. The officers told him he needed to wait and to exit the bathroom area, immediately. As Defendant was exiting the bathroom area Deputy Moneaux heard something hit the floor. When asked what he heard specifically, Deputy Moneaux testified:

A. It was the actual "shank".
Q. Describe the noise you heard.
A. Like a "ping". It hit like a drain on the floor in the stall.
Q. Who else was in the cell when that occurred?
A. It was just me and Mr. [sic] LeBlanc.
Q. Any other inmates?
A. No, sir. The other inmates were already exited the dorm.
Q. What did, what did you do at that point?
A. We actually got Mr. Roman Ford out and then I went back immediately and found the object that he had dropped.

         On August 25, 2015, Defendant was charged by bill of information with one count of introducing or possessing contraband in a municipal or parish jail, a violation of La.R.S. 14:402(E). Defendant entered a plea of not guilty to the charge on September 8, 2015. A jury trial took place on January 27, 2016, and Defendant was found guilty as charged. Thereafter, on February 1, 2016, Defendant was charged as a habitual offender and entered a plea of not guilty. On May 12, 2016, the trial court found the Defendant was a fourth felony offender. On that same date, the trial court sentenced Defendant to five years at hard labor on the underlying charge of possessing contraband in a municipal or parish jail. Defendant filed a Motion for Appeal, which was granted.

         On August 2, 2016, the trial court vacated the previous sentence and sentenced Defendant as a fourth felony offender to twenty years at hard labor without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence.

          Pursuant to a motion filed by the District Attorney's Office, on September 12, 2016, the trial court ordered the 16th Judicial District Attorney's Office recused. The Attorney General of the State of Louisiana was notified of the need to appoint counsel. By letter dated October 28, 2016, the Attorney General accepted the appointment.

         Defendant is now before this court alleging three assignments of error, one of which is also discussed in the error patent section. For the reasons that follow, we affirm Defendant's conviction and amend the sentence imposed.

         ERRORS PATENT and ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NO. 2

         In accordance with La.Code Crim.P. art. 920, all appeals are reviewed for errors patent on the face of the record. After reviewing the record, we find one error patent that is also assigned as error number two in Defendant's brief.

         The court minutes reflect that the court imposed a twenty year hard labor sentence on Defendant without any restriction of benefits. However, the sentencing transcript indicates that the trial court imposed Defendant's twenty year sentence without the benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence. "[W]hen the minutes and the transcript conflict, the transcript prevails." State v. Wommack, 00-137, p. 4 (La.App. 3 Cir. 6/7/00), 770 So.2d 365, 369, writ denied, 00-2051 (La. 9/21/01), 797 So.2d 62. The trial court improperly denied parole eligibility on Defendant's habitual offender sentence imposed for his conviction of introducing into or possessing contraband in any municipal or parish prison or jail, a violation of La.R.S. 14:402. Although Section G of La.R.S. 15:529.1 requires habitual offender sentences to be imposed without the benefit of probation or suspension of sentence, it does not authorize the trial court to deny parole eligibility. "[T]he restrictions on parole eligibility imposed on multiple offender sentences under La.R.S. 15:529.1 'are those called for in the reference statute.'" State v. Tate, 99-1483, pp. 1-2 (La. 11/24/99), 747 So.2d 519, 520 (citation omitted). The applicable penalty provision for introducing into or possessing contraband in any municipal or parish prison or jail does not authorize the trial court to impose any portion of the sentence without the benefit of parole. La.R.S.14:402(G). Therefore, Defendant's sentence must be amended to delete the denial of parole eligibility and the trial court is instructed to make an entry in the court minutes reflecting that change. See State v. Barfield, 11-515 (La.App. 3 Cir. 11/23/11), 81 So.3d 760, writ denied, 11-2818 (La. 4/13/12), 85 So.3d 1246.

         ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NO. 1

         In this assignment of error, Defendant contends the trial court erred in denying him the right to present evidence relating to the events leading up to the shakedown of his cellblock. Defendant argues that evidence of these events was relevant to this case, and the trial court's denial of admission of this evidence violated the Defendant's right to present a defense.

         During the cross-examination of Lieutenant LeBlanc, Defendant asked Lieutenant LeBlanc if there had been issues with Shane Norman (the initial complainant about the shank) causing a ruckus in the cell. The State objected, ...


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